Lignin, which is found in lignocellulosic biomass and is a common byproduct of the paper and pulp industry, has a potential market value of $242 billion if steps are taken to bring it to market, according to a report by Lux Research.
The report echoes findings of a Frost & Sullivan report, which was released earlier this year.
Lux noted that lignin has market value across 13 select products, including BTX.
Although the pulp and paper industry produces about 50 million metric tons of lignin annually, most is burned for power, and only 1 million metric tons ultimately reaches the chemicals market. However, lignin supplies from other sources is expected to grow. Increasing production of fuels from lignocellulosic feedstocks is projected to process as much as 2.9 million metric tons of lignin in 2017.
Lignin is able to produce a number of straight chain, cyclic and aromatic chemicals, according to Julia Allen of Lux Research. However, she adds, creating higher-value chemicals requires technology development to balance feedstock variability, lignin separation effects, depolymerization and product separation challenges.
Lux researchers evaluated technologies to convert lignin into higher-value chemicals and created an invention-to-commercialization model to predict when such chemicals would appear on the market and came to the following conclusions:
- Using a Lux proprietary model, it was determined that the first lignin-derived chemical product may be expected to hit the market in 2021, after a significant patent inflection in 2018-19.
- Of the four major routes under development to convert lignin into smaller chemical constituents – thermal, chemical, metallic catalytic and biological – thermal routes appear best in the near-term.
- A wide range of commercialization opportunities exist, with markets running into the billions of dollars after a second patent inflection in 2018-2019.
The report also noted that early-stage companies such as Annikki, Biome Bioplastics and Vertichem, as well as universities like the Universite de Sherbrooke and Tohoku University are prime targets for collaboration.
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